Interviews: How to Offer The .X Factor.

     
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In today's competitive academic environment large numbers of highly qualified candidates apply for the same job. This means that it is easy for those hiring to choose four or five very strong candidates to interview. Teaching, research and administrative skills are likely to be strengths for all of the candidates, so it will be other factors that make you stand out from the crowd.

If you are short-listed, what things can make you stand out? The five factors outlined below are all important in every interview scenario, but it's also vital that you don't take them too far! These tips apply to interviews in any walk of life, but especially the less formal part of academic interviews (such as a teaching presentation, meeting members of the department and so on).

Enthusiasm

You have to try to convey to people that you really want the job and that you really want to be their colleague. It helps if this is an honest impulse and you don't have to fake it! Do not, however, overdo your enthusiasm because it will come across as contrived. Try to act naturally. Modulate your voice so you speak in a normal but animated way. Speak up if you have a tendency to be quiet: nerves will only make you quieter in an interview.

Informality

Again, this is a matter of getting the balance right. No one wants an interviewee who acts as though they don't care about the outcome, but equally the interviewers are looking for someone who will be good to work with in the long term. They want someone who they can see fitting in socially and personally, as well as on a research and teaching level. Academic interviews often involve informal discussions and also lunchtime meet and greets with potential colleagues so try not to let nerves ‘stiffen you up' in these circumstances. Relax and be yourself. Many interviews also require you to give a teaching presentation and it's vital not to make this too formal or rigid. Try to avoid reading from a script if you can and maintain eye contact with your audience without staring at them.

Confidence

If you can convey at interview that you know your material and you are confident in your own ability then this is half the battle already won. Do not let this confidence spill over into an appearance of arrogance though. For most candidates this is not the problem. For the most part, we find it very difficult to emphasise our strengths and sell them to an audience and part of the secret to doing this is in your manner as well as in what you actually say. If someone asks you a question then address your answer to them, meeting their gaze. This is especially important if you have been asked a challenging question or someone has explicitly disagreed with something you have said. If you suffer badly with nerves, try to learn some techniques so that they do not show, such as breathing exercises or visualisation methods.

Self-deprecation

It might seem contradictory to recommend that you be both confident and self-deprecatory but both are requisites in the ideal candidate. In order to make your audience warm to you it is important to be able to poke fun at yourself while maintaining a professional demeanour. There is nothing wrong with mentioning a humorous experience from which you learned something or improved your teaching. Breaking the ice with your audience by making them laugh will encourage them to open up to you and be more willing to take seriously the other things you have to say during the interview. Be careful with this though; you must remain professional, especially in the formal panel interview, and never make jokes or funny remarks at the expense of others. Also be careful that you do not repeatedly put yourself down. Once per interview will make you seem human and likeable. More than that and it will seem as though you don't believe in yourself.

Relaxed attitude

This summarises all four of the previous points. Your teaching, research and administration record will be your main selling points, but you also need to come across as the sort of person who would make a great colleague. This is often forgotten by those who haven't experienced many interviews. If you come across as relaxed and at ease even though everyone knows you must be nervous inside then people will warm to you more easily. Of course interviewers realise that we are only human and make allowances for strange behaviours triggered by nerves, but it is far better to be the candidate for whom no allowances have to be made. It is obvious that this type of candidate would make a great colleague.


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